High Seas: Ocean Tow Boats

Book Four

Ship 10 JPG

Chapter -1- SINGAPORE

Keith navigated the THOMAS, under the watchful eye of Peter, into the Singapore Strait from the west and headed for the main harbor. They came around Sentosa Island and headed for Jurong Island, where their barges were supposed to be waiting at Resin and Pigment Technologies, PTE, Ltd holding pier.

He reminded Keith that what he was doing was their own little secret and that he could not tell anyone that he was more than just a passenger.

There were five heavily laden barges holding huge metal containers filled with bulk paints and pigments destined for General Motors Corporation. The Pilot Launch caught up with them just off Sentosa Island and they were brought over to an anchorage just off Jurong Island.

They watched as two small harbor tugs worked each barge over to The THOMAS and hooked them up in a line. Peter had his own men double check the wire and each connection. They were made up in a surprisingly short time.

He went with the First Mate to check each load and both men groaned when they saw how heavily laden each barge was. It was going to be a tough pull back to Los Angeles. Each barge was sitting down in the water to their load limits.

Peter took Keith with them and the boy surprised the both of them, he also spoke some Chinese! Keith was surprising them all, most of all, himself! The more he was around Peter, the more he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He would do anything Peter asked of him, he did it cheerfully and quickly, Peter soon began to depend on the young man and that made Keith even more determined to follow in Captain Peter's footsteps!

Just as it was getting dark, the load was made up and they decided to depart out through the Singapore Strait again that same night. The Strait was well marked and it was pitch dark by the time the exited the Strait into the Java Sea.

They were looking at a three day run to get around the Philippines and exit the Babuyan Channel into the Philippine Sea. It would be a dangerous crossing. The Java Sea was shallow, with many rocks barely submerged. Equally as bad, many pirates still worked the area!

Keith had been watching everything Peter had done and Peter let the boy mark the chart with his (Peter's) observation points. When Peter checked the chart, Keith's plots were dead on! He grinned at the youth and he could see pride in the boy's face!

It was a slow and monotonous voyage, like most barge pulls. Peter ran the shaft up to 95 turns but he was skittish about going any higher with the heavily laden barges as the strain on the tow wire was tremendous, along with the known hazards of the area.

The weather remained good and they made predicted time across the Philippine Sea. They sailed across the North Pacific under good weather conditions and had the shaft up to 97 turns for a while, but the strain on the wire made Peter nervous so he again settled for 95 turns.

They crossed the Hawaiian Chain north of the islands and where, at last, they were on their last leg home. The wind had picked up a bit and the tow was bucking around. Peter tried slowing, but that did not seem to help, the barges were lurching and cavorting all over the track.

Early in the voyage, Peter had a bunk placed in his stateroom for Keith and they had become roommates. Since neither of them snored, it was working out very well. Keith could discuss things he didn't quite understand and Peter could train Keith in the methods and science of navigation and ship handling. The young man was already picking up how to chart a course and they discussed weather observations, wind and sea changes and how to take a star sight. Keith was like a sponge, he soaked up knowledge as fast as Peter could pour it on him.

They had been discussing ship operations and procedures when they both started to yawn and they decided to go to bed and get some sleep. Sometime later, they were both awakened by the First Mate, the tow wire had snapped! Peter was out of his bunk in a flash and he raced up to the bridge with Keith right on his heels.

Peter told the First Mate to "Hold down the bridge" and he headed for the fantail. Sure as God made rain drops, there was the broken tow wire (actually a braided metal cable about 8 inches thick) laying on the fantail.

He told the seamen with him break out the spare wire and he handed the sound powered telephone to whoever was standing behind him. Peter started giving orders to the person on the phone to be relayed to the bridge.

They were quartering up on the lead barge, nosing the stern towards the towing shackle on the barge. Two seamen jumped across to the barge and worked the wire over the towing post. Fortunately, the seas were calm, otherwise it would have been a good opportunity for one of the seamen to end up with a smashed hand or even worse injuries.

When Peter looked up, he discovered Keith working the phone to the bridge. Keith grinned and gave a left-handed salute to Captain Peter. He relayed Peter's orders to take up the slack and start the pull.

Once they were underway, Peter told the bridge to make a wide turn to the port and come around to their original course.

Besides being damned proud of himself, Keith had gotten a "taste" of command and how it worked. He realized now that it wasn't just giving orders, sometimes your life and those around you were on the line! When Peter came over to Keith to put the phones away in their cabinet, he saw a glint in Keith's eyes and thought, "The boy has caught the bug"

Peter and Keith went back to Peter's stateroom and they got another few hours of sleep until it was time for a new day.

When they walked in the mess for breakfast, the crew made it plain that Keith was one of them, that he had been tested and found capable. From that day forward, every member of the crew knew they could depend on Keith, "come hell or high water".

It showed on Keith, also. There was a spring to his step and a lilt to his voice that hadn't been there before, the melancholy of self-doubt was gone and the boy was on his way to manhood.

When the two brothers would have time to compare their stories of their very first Tow, they both realized where their hearts lay, they were Ocean Tow Boat Sailors and the course of their lives was apparent to both of them and also to all who knew the two brothers!

They continued towards Los Angeles and, almost before they were ready, the San Nicolas Light appeared off the port bow. As they were reducing the turns on the shaft, the Marconi Operator brought a radio message to Peter from Charlie, there were four barges of canned goods waiting for them at the Del Monte pier to be delivered to Consolidated Foods in Oakland. The goods were all in sea crates and the loads were tarped.

Peter had disliked the idea of running without a customer back to San Francisco Bay and this latest order was just right. They were met in the outer harbor of the Port of Los Angeles by two harbor tugs and were relieved of their tow. He let Keith collect all the bills of lading and release slips, figuring it was good exposure for the boy.

He noticed, with approval, that Keith checked each lading list against the bills of lading receipts and the release slips before he gave the seaman clearance to release the tow.

Once clear of their load, the Harbor Pilot came aboard for the short move to Los Angeles Pier No. 1. The Harbor Master had already notified Del Monte that The THOMAS had arrived and they were just finishing up loading the four barges.

The basin was quite narrow at pier 1, so they required assistance from the harbor tugs to make up the tow.

While they were waiting for the barges to be assembled, Peter called for the fueling barge, his tanks were getting low and the price of fuel was a bit cheaper there than in Oakland. By the time his bunkers were topped off, the barges had been made ready and Peter expertly backed The THOMAS down to make the lead barge fast on the wire.

As daylight was fading, The THOMAS was ready to depart and they said goodbye to Los Angeles as they sailed out past the breakwater and headed to the open sea.

They picked up the Port Vicente Light and headed out into the Coastal Seaway for their short run to the Golden Gate. The trip north was bittersweet to Keith, they had to pass right by the place where he and his brother Andy had been plucked out of the flaming wreckage of their "stepfather's" boat.

After what that man who passed himself off to be their stepfather had done to them, Keith's only thought was that he hoped the man was roasting in the lowest pit in Hell.

He knew that someday soon, he and Andy were going to have to sit down with both Peter and Carson and tell them what truly had happened to them and what the man had done to them. He was pretty sure that the doctor that Grandpapa Thomas had called in had told them a lot, but these two men who had come to mean so much to them, deserved to know their whole story. It wasn't going to be a nice story and he knew that he and Andy would be in tears before they had completed their story.

He knew, also, that Peter would be in tears also and he suspected that Carson would be too. He didn't want Grandpa Thomas and most certainly Grandma Helen to ever hear what they had to tell their Papas.

He also knew that they would never, under any conditions, ever tell Terry what had happened to them! They both loved that little boy tornado as if he were a true blood brother to them. He was and, in later years, would prove it to them!

They continued up the California coast and, when they spotted the Pigeon Point light, they all knew they were almost home. Peter made the turn around the Farallons just after 1000 hours and they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge three hours later.

The shipping documents specified the barges were to be left at the Richmond Terminal and Peter was not looking forward to that. Richmond Terminal was a tiny place with barely enough room for just The THOMAS to turn around in. There were supposedly, two harbor tugs there to assist them, he hoped to hell they were there!

They crossed the bay to Richmond and he used the bridge radio to get on the harbor net. He called the Port of Richmond Harbor Master to make sure the tugs were there and he was assured they would be by the time he got there.

There was a lot of traffic on the bay, mostly pleasure craft and those always scared Peter as he was never quite sure just what the playboy boat jockeys were going to do. Mostly, they were just plain stupid!

Just as he began his maneuver to clear Bird Island, a speed boat full of people came zipping around them. They appeared to be just out joy riding, Peter pulled on the ship's horn with a mighty blast and the joy riders just waved.

Peter shook his head, and wondered if they realized a tug with twenty-eight hundred tons of barges behind it did not have brakes! His knees were still shaking as he eased the THOMAS into Richmond Harbor.

The tugs were waiting there as promised and they quickly took charge of the barges. Keith collected all the paperwork and checked them off against the Bills of Lading before signing them over to the tugs.

As soon as the tugs had cleared the barges away from The THOMAS, Peter carefully backed the tug out to the mouth of the harbor. There was not sufficient room inside the small harbor for him to turn The THOMAS around and head out, bow first.

It was getting dark and they could just about smell home as Peter headed The THOMAS to Bates Pier in Oakland.


It was dark by the time Peter got The THOMAS alongside their home pier. The TERRY was berthed just ahead of them and he could see a group of people standing on the pier waiting for them. Peter spotted Andrew's blonde hair and he could see him holding the hand of a shorter person, there was no doubt in his mind that little Terry was waiting on the pier also.

He got The THOMAS tied up and rang down "FINSHED WITH ENGINE". Everything went quiet, except for the subdued sound of the generator exhaust. That too would be shut down as soon as the Engineers got the shore power cable run out. They would drop the generator and immediately plug in the shore power cable and restart needed machinery. That was easier than trying to parallel the ship's generator with the utility power.

The silence was almost deafening, they had heard the muffled roar of the main engine and the generator the entire trip and now, both were secured, they could now speak without shouting!

Andrew and a little redheaded rocket leaped from the pier to the tug and ran up to the bridge. Suddenly, Keith was trying to hug his twin while a redheaded leech was hanging on his neck.

All three boys were trying to talk at the same time and Peter smiled, thinking what a change from the last time he had seen the twins together. They both stood taller and were full of confidence in themselves.

The THOMAS' crew all patted Keith's back as they passed by, headed for the pier. Several of them hugged Terry and they all suddenly realized that Keith and Andy were identical twins. The Second Mate suggested they paint an "A" or a "K" on their foreheads in order to tell them apart!

Carson was waiting on the pier and he shook Peter's hand, asking how things had gone. Peter replied, "Everything went great, Boss. Let me get cleaned up and I will bring you up to date the first thing in the morning."

Carson said, "Yeah, that will be great, how did Keith do?"

Peter stopped and thought for a moment before answering, "Boss, we got us a young Captain to be in that boy, but he has a world of hurtin' to unload before he can really take charge."

Carson nodded his head and replied, "Yeah, same with his brother, we gotta help those two boys somehow. They are too good to toss on the trash heap!"

Peter agreed with him and told Carson he would see him first thing in the morning.

Carson got the three boys loaded in the car and they headed for home, Keith and Andy were sitting side by side, not saying a word, just holding onto each other's hand. Carson looked in the rear view mirror and wisely said nothing and, before Terry could say anything, Carson shook his head, warning the little boy not to disturb his two brothers on the back seat.

They finally got home and Helen had a big meal laid out. She had her special country fried chicken, fluffy mashed potatoes, a crisp green salad and a stack of buttermilk biscuits all ready for eating.

The twins were subdued all through the meal and Carson was hurting almost as badly as the two boys, as soon as the meal was over, he asked the two to come into the office with him and Grandpa Thomas.

The four of them sat in the leather easy chairs in the office, Carson had shut the door, and he took each boy's hand. He said, "Boys, we got it set up so that Grandpa and Grandma Bates are gonna be your guardians. I know that Captain Peter wants to train you, Keith, to be a deck officer. He speaks very highly of you and wants you to serve on The THOMAS with him."

He then looked at Andrew and continued, "Andy, you are gonna be a great Marine Engineer and I will be proud to have you on the TERRY. Like your brother, you have shown so much potential that we are going to sponsor you both to go to the Merchant Marine Academy if you want to go."

Both Andy and Keith sat there with huge tears rolling down their eyes. Andy stammered, "bbbbu But you don't know about uuuuusss us."

Carson said kindly, "No, we don't, but we know all we need to know that you are both fine young men and we want you in our company."

He continued, "If either of you want to tell us, we will listen, but I have to tell you both right now, we will NOT judge you."

Through his tears, Andy began telling his story of how he and Keith had been beaten, raped repeatedly and loaned out to their stepfather's friends.

Carson held up his hand and said, "Son, he was not your stepfather. We have learned that he stole you both from the orphanage in Texas when you were very young. That has all been cleared up and here are your copies of the court order giving my parents custody of you until you are eighteen years old. Then you will be free if you want to leave us."

At that, both Andy and Keith wailed out their tears and hugged Carson and Thomas. Keith said through his tears, "yyy u You guys are our family, we love you and would never leave you."

Keith continued, "Can we call you and Captain Peter our Daddies?"

Carson replied, "It's OK with me, but you will have to ask Peter also."

Just then, there was a knock on the door and Grandma Helen stuck her head in the door, "Guys, Peter is here and wants to speak with you."

Carson smiled and replied, "Well, speak of the devil....."

Peter stepped in the room as Helen closed the door behind him. He said, "I suspected you would be here and I just want to say that I would like for Keith to consider himself as my son. I will do all in my power to raise him up, care for him and see to it he can go to the Academy if that is his wish."

Keith ran to Peter and held him as hard as he could with his arms around Peter's neck. Keith whispered in Peter's ear. "I love you, Papa!"

Peter's face shone with a million watts and his eyes were sparkling in tears himself.

Thomas spoke up, "Well, I guess that is all settled now and Helen and I are grandparents again!"

They got Peter up to speed on what had happened so far, then Andy continued his story of how their "stepfather" would bring all his friends out on his boat and the boys were to 'entertain' the men and please them sexually."

When Andy had wound down, he went to sit on Carson's lap and hug him.

Keith then said, "Yeah, that is pretty much what happened, but Andy left out how we had to perform for our stepfather's lady friends too. He made us have sex with them and do nasty things to excite them. When he wasn't having a party, we had to take care of his pleasures, sometimes all night long. The only thing he let us do was to go to school, he was afraid of the school authorities would report him and we would get taken away from him."

Andy spoke up, "Yeah an' he was gonna sell us to some important man from Hong Kong, that was why we were on the boat when it caught fire."

Just then, the door to the den burst open and Terry came running in. slamming himself across Andy's and Keith's laps. Tears were flooding the little boy's face and he was crying so hard, his whole little body was shaking. He looked up and said to both Keith and Andy, "Please stay with us, be my big brothers. PPPPLLEASE." Terry was shaking so badly, both Andy and Keith had to hold on to him in fear that he would fall to the floor. Both boys leaned over and told the sobbing child that they would stay and yes, they WOULD be his big brothers.

It took them all a long time to calm down, Carson feared that his father was going to need his heart medicine. As it was, the old man's hands were shaking as he held on to Keith's and Andy's hands.

When they could all speak normally, Thomas asked Carson if it could be possible for there to be a training position on the tugs for Andy and Keith to get some experience before they went to the Academy.

Carson thought for a moment and then replied, "We can get them certified as deck hands or wipers in the Engine Room. They probably already know enough to pass the exam."

Thomas replied, "That sounds good, they need to go back to school right now, then they can ship out all next summer. Next year will be their senior year in high school, I already have their transcripts from Palo Alto, they both are good students and have top grades. I doubt they will have any trouble with the entrance exam to the Academy."

Peter looked up and added, "Not if Carson and I drill them for the next two years!"

It was decided that Carson and Peter would take them over to San Francisco the next day and go apply to take their exams for their Coast Guard tickets for Wiper and Deck Hand.

Terry was so wrought out, he had fallen asleep across Andy's and Keith's laps, Carson gently picked the little boy up and carried him up to his room so he could sleep for a while.

Peter stood there, holding both teens in his arms and, he said, "I never thought I would have a son and now, I have a son AND a nephew. I'm not ever going to let either of you go, this is a forever relationship, no matter where you go, what you do or how you do it, you will always be my son or my nephew! FOREVER!"

The two boys snuggled in under his enclosing arms and replied. "Papa" and "Uncle."

Thomas walked over to the group and said, "Don't forget, GRANDPA!"

They all smiled and hugged each other as Carson returned from putting Terry down for a nap. They all sat and talked about how they were going to do things and how Andy and Keith would rotate between the two tugs over their next summer vacations.

Andy asked Carson, "Are ya gonna buy any more tugs, Papa?"

Carson laughed and replied, "Yeah, but you are not ready yet to engineer one!"

Andy said, "Yeah, but that way I KNOW it will be ready by the time I can engineer it!" Keith didn't say a word, he just snuggled up closer to Peter and Peter hugged the boy even tighter.

It had been an emotional evening and everyone was tired, Peter hugged Keith and gave him a fatherly kiss on the forehead before heading to his own home to tell his own mother that she was a Grandma now. He didn't know that Helen had already clued her in and she was making plans to have Keith come live with her, at least part-time, when Peter was out to sea.


The next morning, Carson was going through his mail before going down to the ship, he found a notice of the impending sale of surplus ships over at Hunter's Point Navy Yard the next day. He gave Peter a call and asked if he wanted to come along and Peter jumped at the chance. Peter asked if the boys could come along also and Carson thought that was a good idea.

Both Carson and Peter had retained their Navy Reserve Commissions, so Carson thought it would be a good idea to have lunch at the Officer's Club before the sale.

When the teens heard about it, they were upset that they didn't have any "nice" clothes to wear. Grandma Helen just crooked her finger and told the boys to follow her. She took them upstairs to her sewing room and opened the closet. On one row was a complete set of clothes for school, dress up and casual dress. The other row held duplicates to what was on the first row.

The two brothers looked at Helen as if she were some sort of magician. The boys chose similar, but not exact duplicates to wear the next day. They were gonna do their new Daddies up proud. Andy and Keith changed back into their work clothes and both men then took their sons down to the ships where they worked with the two crews getting the tugs cleaned up and ready for their next run.

The crews knew somewhat of what was happening and that the boys were now family. That they each got down and helped scrub the decks and swab out the engine rooms sent their value up several MORE notches in the crew's eyes.

By the end of the day, both tugs were ready for duty. They gave the next day off with pay as both Captains were going to be at the sale over at the Navy Yard.

Charlie told them he would man the phone while they were away. Both Captains worked over their reports and compiled usage of fuels, lubricating oils and towing materials. They then placed orders for replacement parts, and the fuel and oil they had expended before they, too, left for the day.

By late afternoon, there was only the night watchman around and he closed up and locked the gates before he started making his rounds.

They left the next day for Hunter's Point, Keith and Andy were a bit uncomfortable in their new clothes and their first pairs of dress up shoes that actually fit. When the Marines at the gate asked about the two youngsters sitting in backseat, Carson said they were students doing a study for their Maritime Licenses.

The Marines were a bit dubious, but they let them in anyway, since they were only going to the O-Club and then to the Ship Auction down on the waterfront.

Andy and Keith had never seen anything like the Officer's Club before and they were rubbernecking like two tourists. They had a nice lunch of club sandwiches. The boys had cokes and the two men had a beer. They sat there talking until it was time to go register for the auction.

They saw several tugs on the auction list, so they put their name down for all four of them. They didn't have to bid a dollar amount until after the viewing period so they ambled down to the waterfront to take a look, two of the tugs were sister ships to The TERRY and The THOMAS, the other two were small harbor tugs, which they had no interest in.

Carson had to put down two $5,000 cash bonds in order to enter the bidding on the two ships and he paid that by check. There were only a few people there for the auction and the first ship put up was for a harbor tug. Several people bid furiously over the tug and it went for $20,000.

That seemed kind of high to Carson, he was getting a little worried that he would not be able to afford the ones he wanted. The bidding on the second harbor tug was just as fierce and it went for $22,000.

When they moved to the Ocean Tugs, they looked around and they were the only ones still there. They ended up getting the ocean tugs for the minimum bid of $15,000 each!

Andy and Keith's eyes were wide as they watched their Daddies buy two huge ships! Keith whispered to Andy, "I'm gonna be Captain of one of those ships someday!"

Andy replied, "Yeah an' I'm gonna be Chief Engineer!" They did not know that Peter and Carson overheard them. Their pride in those two boys climbed a few more rungs, it was a wonder their shirt buttons held in place!

Carson had the two tugs towed over to Bethlehem Shipyard to have the hulls inspected and the ships painted. The first two they had purchased were now ready to crew, they had been inspected, the hull and topsides painted. They had also provided new radar units and a radio for the Marconi Operator. Everything else had been brought up to date by the Navy before they had sold the ships.

They had hired two Chief Engineers and one Captain, they still needed a second Captain and they would notify the unions the next day about deck and engine crews. Peter asked, "Are you having a hard time finding a Skipper?"

Carson replied, "Yeah, I interviewed two while you were gone and they were both duds."

Peter said, "Let me look around, some of my old buddies were still looking for work last time I heard from them."

Carson agreed and he went into the Supply building to pay for their two newest Ocean Tugs. When he got back in the car, Andy asked, "Have you thought about names for the two new tugboats?"

Carson leaned back in the seat while he was driving and said, "Yeah, I got two real good names for the two tugs."

Andy said, somewhat suspiciously, "eeeEr, ah, What are you going to call them?"

Carson grinned and replied, "One is going to be the ANDREW and the other will be the KEITH!"

Both boys groaned and exclaimed, "You wouldn't....."

Carson laughed and said, "Yup, that's what they are gonna be, I already sent the certificates out with the Poof of Ownership documents I got from the Navy. Mailed them right there in the lobby when I paid for them!"

Andy looked at his brother and said, "God, I hope the kids at school never learn of this, we will never live it down!"

It had been an exciting several days before the boys were enrolled in St. David High School, a private, all boys high school. Peter and Carson had chosen St. David's because they specialized in training boys * for the Navy Academy and also for the Merchant Marine Academy and they were going to give their sons every advantage they could. (*Author's note: this part of the story takes place before it was common for women to enter the Maritime Trades)

So it was that two teen aged boys who had been fished out of the water like two drowned rats, were now going to go to an elite boys' school in preparation to enter the Maritime Academy after they graduated from high school. That they were top student didn't hurt their chances. Their first grading period brought a cryptic note from their counselor, "These boys are going places, I suggest you saddle up and prepare for a helluva ride!" The counselor had been a high school classmate of their fathers at the same school.

The school officials had no problem accepting the two boys, they all knew of the exploits of their Dads and it didn't hurt that their Grandfather was the retired Presiding Chief Judge of the Superior Court.


We will leave Andrew Carson Bates and Keith Peter Bates to their studies while their fathers continue to grow Bates Ocean Towing Services. By the time the two new tugs go into service, there will be six Bates Ocean Tugs sailing out of San Francisco Bay. Just wait until Grandma Helen discovers the name of Ocean Tug number three! Guess who Tug number four will be named after!